Trump May Face a Storm of Lawsuits, and Possible Jail Time, Without Presidential Immunity
When Trump returns to private life and the protective shield of immunity is removed, it renders him extremely vulnerable to prosecution.
With President Donald Trump’s narrow chances of winning reelection hinging on a number of lawsuits, it almost seems too soon to consider the possibility that he could face a storm of legal troubles once he leaves the White House.
Trump is no stranger to lawsuits – both as the subject and instigator of them – and this will not change when he returns to private life and the protective shield of immunity is removed, rendering him extremely vulnerable to prosecution.
And while no former U.S. president has ended up behind bars, this isn’t due to their obedience to the law. Historically, presidents have used their power to accumulate fortune, influence, and favors. Likewise, ex-presidents have also received crucial political protection from their allies, such as when Richard Nixon received a blanket pardon from Gerald Ford for any crime he may have committed while in office.
Donald Trump’s presidency – like his life as a real estate tycoon turned reality TV star – has been anything but traditional. Likewise, his own crimes while in office have been extremely nontraditional. And while he’s immune from indictment under federal law as sitting president, once he leaves office he could face a number of lawsuits and investigations that will sharply impact his private life, his business, and potentially his freedom – that is, if he doesn’t pardon himself.
“The short answer is that once he leaves the office, his cloak of immunity, actual or implied by (Justice Department guidelines), will disappear,” former Florida federal prosecutor David Weinstein told USA Today.
One of the potential ways Trump could run into legal trouble is through tax fraud. Trump’s efforts to not release his taxes has been an ongoing theme of his presidency. And while the tax code has innumerable loopholes for billionaires to legally evade paying taxes, the Trump family has long been suspected of resorting to illegal means to avoid paying taxes.
A New York Times investigation in September revealed that Trump may have passed significant amounts of money to his children under the guise of legitimate business transactions, such as when his company deducted $747,622 in “consulting fees” for hotel projects in Hawaii and Vancouver. At the same time, a consulting company paid that precise amount to Ivanka Trump, despite her being an employee of Trump’s company. Meanwhile, millions of other consulting fees were paid to another person.
Trump has also extended loans of $50 million to himself, written off hush money payments to a porn star as a business expense, and engaged in other shady transactions that have been revealed in the press.
For these reasons, Trump’s former fixer, convicted tax evader Michael Cohen, believes that the president could quickly end up in the slammer once his presidency ends.
“Based on what I know and what has now been reported, he may soon be the first sitting president to go from the White House straight to prison,” Cohen told the New York Daily News.
Trump also faces a criminal inquiry in his New York City hometown for what Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office calls “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization.” The allegations involve hush money payments to two women who claim to have had affairs with Trump prior to him becoming president. Prosecutors are also investigating possible criminal activity within the Trump Organization.
Vance is also investigating whether Trump knowingly provided false statements about his finances to insurers and banks to receive lower premiums and interest rates on loans, which would be illegal in some circumstances.
Manhattan prosecutors are seeking eight years of tax filings and other financial documents from Trump as part of a grand jury investigation. Trump has denounced the investigation as “political prosecution,” and his attempts to shield his tax records have even reached the Supreme Court.
Trump’s potential legal troubles don’t end there, as his $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels over their alleged affair likely runs afoul of campaign finance law. Trump also made a $10 million donation to his own campaign on Oct. 27, 2016, which is believed to have come from a strange $21 million payment he received from a Las Vegas hotel he co-owned with a friend, constituting a potential illegal campaign contribution.
Trump also faces two defamation lawsuits from women who allege that he sexually assaulted them before later disparaging them and denying the allegations. Former Elle magazine journalist E. Jean Carroll has accused Trump of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in Manhattan during the 1990s, and has sought DNA evidence to see if it matches genetic material left on her dress during the alleged incident.
While Trump sought to use the Justice Department to represent him in the case, a federal judge blocked them from intervening, ruling that the alleged defamation has “no relationship to the official business of the United States.”
Former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos has filed a similar lawsuit in New York, claiming that Trump sexually assaulted her a decade prior by kissing and groping her on a number of occasions.
There is also the matter of the long investigation carried out by special prosecutor Robert Mueller from May 2017 to March 2019. While Mueller believed that charging a sitting president was impossible while he was in office, he stressed in his final report that “a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.”
Additionally, following the release of the report more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors released a statement saying that were Trump not president, his conduct described in the report would “result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.”
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